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February 25, 2007

Inside Israel: Voices of Israeli WILPFers

Two remarkable women from WILPF Israel came to Los Angeles this weekend to speak. Jewish Israeli Daphne Banai works through Machsom Watch . Palestinian Israeli Taghrid Shbita is a human rights lawyer. They worked together in WILPF and through an organization that brings together Arab & Jewish children in Israel.

Some notes from today's lecture:
20% of the Israeli population is Palestinian, 150,000 people. Taghrid spoke about her personal knowledge of the troubles of a Jewish, democratic state. Her husband's town, Tehra, was forced to relocate, some allowed to stay in Israel, some not. He moved to her town, Tira, where they met and created a family. Tehra's building stood vacant until 1952 when all of the houses were destroyed. No one lives there, and no one is allowed to rebuild.

Because Israel is first a Jewish state, there are laws to enforce the Jewish majority. For example, the Law of Return, which gives immediate citizenship to any Jew from anywhere in the world. While people who grew up on the land are denied citizenship and often denied entry as tourists. She believes that a democracy cannot exist where one ethnic group is granted more rights than any other ethnic group.

For example, Taghrid spoke about how military service is mandatory for Israeli citizens. But the government doesn't want Palestinian Israelis in the army, nor do Palestinians want to serve. When Taghrid's 19-year old daughter applied for a clerk position at a boutique, she was told military service was a pre-requisite for the job. What is the connection between selling clothes and "defending" the State? Perhaps that both acts serve to defend the continued separation of ethnicities within the population.

Daphne used a Powerpoint presentation to show her work with Machsom Watch. This group of 400 Jewish Israeli women go to checkpoints within the West Bank to observe human rights abuses and to advocate on behalf ot he Palestinians. Their purpose is to de-escalate the tensions, report observations to Israelis and the world, and protest the fact that checkpoints exist deep inside the Occupied Terrirtories. 85% of the checkpoints are within the West Bank, while the rest are passages between Israel and the West Bank.

None of the crossing can be accessed by car. There are blockages forcing every person to get out of their car - from dirt mounds to cement cubes to gates to trenches. Time lost travelling through checkpoints cost sick people their lives. The UN reports that in 2001, 61 women gave birth at checkpoints and 36 were stillborn births.

Since 1967, Israel has not issued a single building permit in the Occupied Territories, therefore most houses are illegal. There are standing demolition orders for all structures built after 1967, therefore if a Jewish Israeli settlement wants to expand, it can simply go and demolish houses without prior warning. The army also takes over Palestinian homes for 3 months at a time, leaving the families to live in sheds on their property or with friends / family. When the army vacates a house, it is often trashed.

In addition to the permanent checkpoints, there are hundreds of temporary checkpoints.

Daphne feels it is a world of supremacy, of apartheid. She believes the forced army services changes the children of Israel. It increases the violence and disregard for the weak within Israel. Often, after completing their army service, the young people escape to remote corners of the world or to drug abuse.

Both Taghrid and Daphne believe that US citizens must pressure the US government to stop supporting the occupation. They offer no easy cures for the problem, only the hope that working together, we can affect real change in this horrific situation. Both believe in a two-state solution and dismiss the reasons given by the Israeli & US governments for not negotiating with the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

We can start creating this change in US policy by working together to formulate an alternative, feminist policy on Israel / Palestine. The US Section campaign "Women Challenge US Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East," is close to releasing a tool-kit to help our branches start feminist round tables to examine current US policy and develop an alternative approach.

Posted by cj at February 25, 2007 6:17 PM


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